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Welcome to the RV Solar Guide, a guide to off-grid solar power systems for RVs that allow boondocking self-sustainably. This guide should inform beginners about RV solar’s why, how, and what.
This guide was updated on 1/15/2023:
We must take a little trip off the grid in a virtual RV to get the why of RV solar systems. In our virtual RV, we go to campgrounds and national parks. In these campgrounds, we find power and plug our camper into the RV pedestal at our campsite. We can run everything we need; life is great. It does seem a little loud, and the neighbors are close. Overall nice, though.
Our journey continues; we next travel to a national park. Here there are no pedestals and no services. There is no cord or pedestal where we enter the land of Boondocking or Dry Camping. Things are typically quieter here. Neighbors are further away. We have to be self-sustainable, which means both power and water.
Our virtual RVs have tanks to handle the water side of things. These tanks are:
On the power side of our RV, we have only one essential item to keep us going: RV house battery bank This battery bank powers pretty much all of the off-grid electrical loads like:
Once your house battery bank is dead, it is necessary to recharge. Since there is no cord, we must find another way to charge the RV battery bank. Enter our RV solar power system. This system will start charging our house batteries when the sun comes out. While we won’t be able to run everything, we are progressing toward keeping power coming in. As we move further through the RV solar guide, we will discuss the components, calculations, and systems that support the energy coming in. We will also set expectations for beginners of what to expect for budget, solar panel sizing, and RV solar tips and tricks.
An RV solar system takes many components to create, store and consume power off-grid. A solar rv is only as good as its weakest link. In RV solar, each part may sometimes be that link. We will discuss these issues in the following few sections.
The components that make up an RV solar system are:
RV solar panels - rigid and flexible solar panels that contain photovoltaic cells that turn sunlight into DC electricity
Solar panel mounting brackets and hardware - hardware that properly mounts a solar panel to the RV roof
Solar panel wires - the wires used to carry power from the solar panel into the rest of the solar system
Solar cable entry plate - the plate designed for watertight cable entry from the exterior of the RV to the interior
Fuses and Breakers - safety equipment designed to protect against electrical faults.
Disconnects - Disconnects allow safe disconnection of the system components.
Solar Charge Controller - The solar charge controller limits the amount of power sent to the battery and also can handle more complex wiring . The two main types are PWM charge controllers and MPPT charge controllers.
RV Battery Bank - the storage system for the RV’s power onboard. These banks are typically built from AGM and Lithium batteries. Most 12-volt RV loads operate off the RV’s house battery bank. Sizing the RV’s house battery bank can be important.
Power Inverter - a device that turns 12-volt DC into 120-volt AC power to allow the operation of household electrical appliances and devices
Battery Charger - designed to recharge the RV’s house battery bank when plugged into the grid or on the generator
Generator - an optional component that allows RV’s to have electricity off the grid. Gasoline, diesel, and propane generators are standard.
While this list is not all-inclusive, we hope to flesh out the guide with even more information. This solar guide is one of the top guides on the Internet and has been used for years to assist customers in determining the right kind of solar setup to suit their mobile application best. With the addition of new solar types ranging from flexible panels to portable solar kits, we have added other information to the site as well. This informative guide has also been updated to included new information on Prewired for solar RVs and Campers. As well as new information on lithium batteries for house RV battery banks with details on requirements for solar controllers and unique specifications for lithium.
Many of our readers have RVs that have been prewired for solar and are interested in starting to off-grid camp or go boondocking. Time was you would have to run the wire from the roof to the controller and down to the battery. Some of this wiring may have been completed for you already.
Having fewer holes in your RV roof is a good thing. Take a little time discussing how the panels lay out with the installer. Allow room for growth and optimizes the solar panel’s placement to prevent shading. Our RV solar layout guide may help. Check out out Solar panel mounting brackets and hardware for information on solar panel brackets for your RV.
This cable entry plate is the best way to make permanent solar panel connections that are out of the way and mostly safe from theft. The CEP-25 has MC-4 connector attachments that allow for quick connecting solar wires to the panels. MC-4 cables will extend usually 18 inches from the panel. These should be fine to conenct to cable entry for a single panel install that is close to the cable entry plate. If you want more than one solar panel or you cable entry plate is far from panel install, ordering a couple of extra MC4 extension cables can make wiring easier on the roof. These cables are almost always ordered in pairs, so get two of them.
When adding panels this is where MC-4 branch connectors will come into play when wiring in a standard parallel configuration. Most of the expansion kits will come witht these although you can order them as matched pairs.
A 30 amp controller can typically handle up top three of these 190 watt panels.
You can add up to of the expansion kits above to a the base solar kit below.
The port on the side is connected directly to the battery in most wiring setups. Check your Rv's manual to make sure this is the case.
This port has a standard connector in many portable solar kits. Commonly referred to as an SAE connector. Portable kits usually have the charge controller in line or on the back of the panel. This is why the port usually is wired directly to the battery.
If there is a side connection, a customer needs to look at our portable solar units and our portable solar guide for more information.
Many of the portable solar kits come with a wide range of connectors. This allows easy connecting to your RV and also other equipment.
As always, we continue to add new and updated pages every month. New foldable solar panel guides and solar on-the-side power guide covering portable solar kits.
Outside Supply is constantly working on adding more information to our RV solar information guide. Updating the guide includes arranging the information in an easier-to-follow format and adding new important RV solar information.
Installing your solar panels on your RV roof after you have completed a plan for laying them out and gathered all the required materials.
The goal of your RV solar system should be to provide clean, reliable power throughout the day. Things are much easier when the sun is up, and the panels are producing power. At night, you need to rely on the stored power of your RV battery bank. Your solar system’s chance to get the batteries fully recharged is during the peak hours of sunlight. Storing away this power in the batteries allows for powering items in your RV when the sun has set.
The size of your battery bank controls how long you can run off-grid when not producing power. The house battery bank is your reserve. It is all the power your system has til morning, when the panels start charging again. This battery bank capacity is rated in amp hours. The more amp hours, the larger the battery bank’s storage capacity. AGM and lithium batteries make up many of the RV house battery banks. There are still some deep-cycle marine flooded batteries, although they are becoming less common. Lithium batteries are better but at a higher price. Read Are lithium RV batteries worth the cost? for more information on the choices.
A few benefits of lithium battery banks:
The downside of lithium batteries for your RV solar system:
Since I like to use blenders and induction cooktops off-grid, a larger battery bank is better for me. I remember how much power I use because I want lights and TV when camping off the grid at night. Determine what loads are essential to you. This will help you size your RV solar battery bank.
Recent updates include Added new information to consider the issues and failed causes of solar installs on RVs. Since Covid-19, RV sales have been off the chart. Many people have stepped into the realm of off-grid camping. Many of these have made the big leap with a residential refrigerator, which requires 760 Watts or more of solar and about 750 Ah of battery. Many mistakes and problems have been reported from customers who rushed into the cheapest kits and information on the Internet. We hope to add an article documenting the 10 Biggest Failure Points on RV Solar Systems.
We have also added new information regarding newer MPPT controllers and Lithium Battery charging profiles.